The kid at the counter sticks out like a sore thumb.
Steve's sitting at a booth by the window, sipping at his coffee while he waits for the vet to finish with Lady, when he comes into the McDonald's just before noon on Friday.
He’s built like a dancer or a gymnast, with long, thin legs and a light frame, though his shoulders are fairly broad despite the narrow length of him. It's his outfit, though, that catches Steve's eye; his pants look practically painted on, shiny like an oil slick, with no pockets to speak of, and a gauzy white shirt that gapes open at the throat to show off his collarbones. He's wearing a cheap, cropped vinyl jacket over it, a backpack hanging over one shoulder, and bright purple high-top sneakers with iridescent tops. His hair is loosely styled, a tumble of brown curls on top and in front that fade down into shaved sides. That's a trendy style right now, Steve thinks vaguely. He notices it on tourists, in the summer.
The kid can't be more than 20, judging by the soft give of his dimpled chin and the baby fat clinging to the underside of his sharp, smooth jaw. He has a slightly wide-eyed look to his pale, blue-grey eyes, and his pouty mouth curves down naturally into a sullen frown.
"Hey, um, hi," he says to the cashier, his voice low and a little rough. "Listen, how much food can I get for $4?"
"Buncha stuff," says the cashier. She shrugs and gestures above her. "The dollar menu is—"
"Nevermind," huffs the kid, putting his crumpled ones on the counter. "Two McDoubles, a McChicken, and a small fry. Please."
"Sure," says the cashier, thoroughly disinterested. "You want anything to drink, or—"
"Water," the kid interrupts, his cheeks a bit pink. "Just a water cup."
The cashier rolls her eyes but sets a tray and a cup down in front of the kid before announcing, "That'll be four dollars and twenty seven cents."
His face flashes with panic and he makes a show of checking his pockets and digging in his backpack before he holds up a single nickel. "Um, I've got four-oh-five?"
The cashier huffs and then reaches around to the front of the register where a little cup is sitting filled with spare change. She picks out a couple of coins and then makes a gimme gesture with her hand. "That's fine."
He hands over the money, his cheeks deeply crimson now, and he mutters a barely audible thank you when she deposits a brown sack filled with his ordered items. He snatches it up and walks away with his shoulders hunched, filling up his cup at the fountain and gulping it down right there before he fills it up again. He makes his way to the far corner of the restaurant, placing his backpack between himself and the wall before he promptly digs into his food with the kind of starving enthusiasm typical of someone who hasn’t eaten in many long hours, maybe even days.
The kid glances around anxiously as he chews hungrily on his burger, a third of it gone in a single bite. He looks a little hunted, but when he notices Steve looking at him, he stares back boldly.
Steve snorts, looking away with a dismissive blink. Whatever that kid is up to, it’s none of Steve’s business, so long as he’s not here to cause trouble—with Steve, or with the locals.
When Steve is finished, he gets up and tosses his trash, filling his cup up with sweet tea. It makes his teeth ache drinking it, but it’s good for the calories and he can’t stand the taste of cola in this century. He strides out the door but can’t keep himself from one last glance at the kid, only to find him already tracking Steve’s movement; he doesn’t look at all embarrassed to have been caught staring. Steve keeps his gaze moving, not settling on him at all before he turns away again and walks toward his truck.
Steve has a few more errands to run before he can pick up Lady. He wants to hit the farm and home store to pick up some supplies for the greenhouse, chicken feed, dog food for Lady, some lumber to fix the fence and put a new gate up, and new weather-proofing for the cabin—some of the windows were awfully breezy last winter, even for him.
He’s chatting with the clerk at the Orscheln’s about the virtue of planting broad beans vs peas in the greenhouse this winter when he catches sight of the boy from McDonald’s idly browsing the winter wear aisle. Steve’s only half watching him out of the corner of his eye, so the kid must think Steve and the clerk are too preoccupied to notice what he’s doing, but Steve sees him stuff a scarf and gloves and then a whole-ass flannel shirt into his backpack.
There’s no real reason to let it go. Steve’s not sure why he doesn’t say anything to Davey. The kid’s clearly desperate. Steve remembers what it was like to be that desperate. He never did steal, but there were a few winters after his mother’s death where his burning desire to survive outweighed his pride, and he found himself digging newspaper and rags out of the trash to line his threadbare coat with. He clears his throat, though, and then asks Davey if he can double check if the pak choi Steve ordered special for the greenhouse has come in.
When Davey’s out of the way, Steve casually wanders down an aisle, then doubles back until he can cut over to where the kid is without alerting him, blocking off his fastest exit.
“You know, they do have cameras in here,” he says mildly, nodding his head toward the upper back corner. “No one’s in the office watching right now, but they will eventually. If you’re still in town, you won’t exactly be hard to find.”
The kid's head snaps up at Steve's sudden voice and presence, big eyes wild, and his pale face floods with color. He immediately takes a step back. Steve knows he's a big guy, and now that he's stood next to the kid's thin, wiry frame, Steve is particularly conscious of how he's at least three times the size of him. He could snap his delicate wrists like twigs, wrap both hands around his slender waist, pick him up as easily as he'd scoop up a cat. There is a brief flash of that fear on the kid’s face and then he glances back to the empty front counter.
"Don't know what you're talking about," he mutters. "I'm just looking."
"Uh huh," says Steve. "Seems like your style. You hitch into town?"
The kid does not make prolonged eye contact, shifting his weight like he’s preparing to escape. "What's it to you?"
Steve snorts. He won't get anywhere with this conversation, when this defensive little kitten won't put his claws away or quit hissing. "Okay. Have a good day, now." He opens his wallet, pulls out two twenties, and tucks them between the shelf and a stack of folded up pairs of jeans. Then he turns and heads back to the counter. He intends for the kid to feel guilty enough to use the cash to pay for the clothes, but if he only had four bucks to spend on food, it's likely he'll just steal the clothes and keep the cash.
Steve waits at the front for Davey. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the kid pocket the cash and then book it back out the doors of the store.
Oh, well. That cash could buy him a ride, maybe. He'll be gone before they see he's lifted merchandise.
"Sorry, Steve," says Davey, reappearing. "Not in yet. Likely next week."
"Thanks," says Steve, knocking on the counter. "See you."
When he heads back outside, the kid is nowhere to be found.
Steve heads over to the local library next to return a few books and check out some more. It's been 7 years since he defrosted, but he finds he's still catching up on things. Not history so much these days—he's got that for the most part thanks to an old set of Encyclopedia Britannica from 2005 he bought at a garage sale plus a few other books to fill in the gaps and learn about other perspectives. These days, he's working his way through 70 years of fiction. He really missed a good mystery novel.
After the library, his old battered Nokia finally rings. While the damn thing had seemed incredibly futuristic when he first picked it up, he knows now that it's as old fashioned as it gets. It's not equipped with GPS, though, and when he turns the thing off, he's not worried it's still transmitting a signal. He keeps it in his truck and only uses it when he goes into town. It’s the vet calling and Steve goes to pick up Lady.
Errands completed, Steve is lifting Lady up into the cab of the truck when he hears someone breathing real close by.
It’s small and shallow and carefully regulated. Steve glances around and doesn't see anybody or anything, but then something catches his eye in the bed of his truck: the tarp has been shifted.
It takes him all of five seconds to figure out who must have crawled into the back.
What the hell is this kid’s game plan? Does he think he's gonna rob Steve? Surely not. Steve could easily overpower him, even if he wasn't a supersoldier. Maybe he's hoping Steve will take him in for the night, but he could also just ask. Steve did give him $40.
Well, there’s only one way to find out.
With that, Steve shuts the passenger door. He circles the cab and gets into the driver’s seat, ruffling Lady’s ears and then grinning as she sits patiently while he starts the engine.
“Time to go,” he tells her. She barks, tongue lolling happily, and he cranks the window a bit for her.
Pulling out of town, Steve drives slowly down the country road for several miles. It eventually turns into rough gravel, then after twenty minutes, becomes bumpy, hard-packed dirt.
Another few miles, and he reaches the bridge. It’s the kind of bridge that looks haunted, rotted and crumbling, and no reasonable person would drive over it. It was the perfect candidate for access to Steve’s place, and so Steve reinforced it five years ago, making sure that on the surface it looked aesthetically dangerous.
The kid never once peeks out from under the tarp, so Steve's not too concerned he'll figure out where Steve lives.
When he finally pulls into the little awning he set up to park the truck under and protect it from the worst of the weather—and to keep it from being easily spotted from the air—he gets out of the truck, holding the door open and whistling twice. Lady bounds out past him and runs straight through her doggy door into the cabin. Then, Steve leisurely circles to the back of the truck and reaches out to yank the tarp aside.
"Enjoy your ride?" he asks.
The kid clearly wasn't expecting to actually be discovered this quickly, reacting with a sharp yelp and the kind of instinctive flinch that indicates he's used to having things thrown at him; arm up to cover his face, shoulders around his ears, curling up real small with his legs protecting his belly. It drops Steve's whole stomach out to see that kind of knee-jerk animal response.
"Easy," rumbles Steve. He puts his other hand in sight and keeps his whole body still. "I'm not going to hurt you, kid."
The kid still uses his legs to push himself against the other side of the truck, eyes huge, darting left and right, but he drops his arm and doesn't try to run. "How'd you know I was back here?" he asks, thin chest rising and falling with quick breaths.
Heard you breathing isn't the right answer, here. "You moved the tarp," says Steve shortly. "Could say I got an eye for detail."
"Oh yeah? Got me pegged, then, huh," says the kid. He seems to catch sight of their surroundings, the forest pressing in thick and deep, and Steve watches his tense expression crumble into something resigned as he realizes they're not in town anymore. Maybe he was looking to keep hitching a ride, and gambled, or he thought Steve lived closer to the town center if he wanted to stay the night.
"Figure you're hitching, said that already," says Steve. "Not sure I can help with that. Why'd you crawl in?"
The kid shrugs his shoulders. "Was considering sleeping back here."
Steve sighs and lets the tarp drop and braces his hands on the edge of the truck bed. "Too cold. You should come inside."
The kid snorts. His eyes are wide, whites visible all around his irises. His gaze sweeps all the way down Steve's body, lingering on his chest and then back up to his face. "Yeah, come inside the huge lumberjack's cabin in the middle of the fucking woods. No thanks."
"You're the one that hopped into my truck, kid," says Steve, sighing. "We're miles outta town. I got a spare bed."
Bucky's eyes narrow. "A spare bed," he says flatly, as if he doesn't quite believe it. "And what'll I owe you for that kind of privilege?"
"Well, I already know the only money you've got is what I gave you. How about we just call it hospitality?" Steve gestures at the cabin. "Left a crockpot going all day. Should have some pretty decent chili in there, and I got some cornbread too. Come on, kid. I'm not gonna touch you, if that's what you're worried about."
The kid looks at Steve for a long time, then asks, "What's your name?"
The kid makes a face, like he's not sure he wants to say and is trying to decide if he wants to give a fake one, but eventually he shrugs. "Bucky."
"Nice to meet you, Bucky," says Steve. "Now get out of my truck and go on in the house. It's not locked. Lady will keep you company while I unload my stuff."
Bucky gives him one last look but finally he obeys, grabbing his backpack and scrambling out of the truck and toward the cabin. Steve watches him go and then starts putting away all his supplies so nothing freezes overnight. When he makes it inside the cabin, kicking off his shoes and hanging up his jacket, he finds Bucky sitting on the floor in the middle of the kitchen, Lady draped across his entire lap like she's not pushing 100 lbs of husky. Her tongue is lolling out happily as Bucky strokes her head, between her ears and down her back. Whenever he pauses, Lady turns and licks his hand until he laughs and starts petting her again.
Steve can't help but chuckle. "She knows better than to try that stuff with me. Looks like she found herself a real pushover."
"She's beautiful," says Bucky reverently. "I love her." He sounds even younger than he looks, filled with awe and wonder.
"Yeah, she's a good girl," says Steve mildly. "But don't let her trick you. She gets plenty of attention." He gives a sharp little whistle as he heads to the cupboard and Lady hops up off of Bucky to his little cry of disappointment. Steve fills her food bowl and sets it down in the corner. Lady doesn't touch it until Steve whistles again.
"Come on," he says, "I'll show you where the bathroom is, get you some towels so you can clean up while I get dinner together."
Bucky pushes himself up from the floor, drawing inward like he wasn't holding himself when Lady was loving on him. He has gangly arms with pointy elbows that he wraps around his middle as he trails cautiously after Steve.
"Here we go," says Steve, opening the bathroom door. He finished renovating it last year; it's been retiled and freshly grouted, with entirely new fixtures. He replaced all the pipes and put in a stand-up shower in addition to the huge, claw-foot tub.
Bucky's eyes are wide as he leans into the doorway. "Hell," he breathes. "Some cabin."
"Use the tub or the shower, I don't care," says Steve, opening the linen closet just outside the bathroom and taking out a towel. He sets it on the rack inside. "Hot water will run out, though, so be mindful. Shampoo and soap is all on the side there. Use whatever you like."
"Even your toothbrush?" asks Bucky smartly, because he's definitely the kind of person that senses generosity and finds the flaw in it.
Steve shrugs. He knows he can't catch anything from Bucky, and likewise Bucky can't catch anything from him, but he doesn’t think Bucky actually wants to use his toothbrush more than just needling at him for a reaction. "There are fresh ones in the cabinet, but if that's your fetish, kid, knock yourself out."
He has the pleasure of watching Bucky's cheek flush pink in surprise.
"Need anything else?" continues Steve, when it's clear Bucky can't muster a retort.
"No," says Bucky. "Thanks."
Steve turns and heads back down the hall to the kitchen. He busies himself with the chili, giving it a stir, tasting it, adding a final bit of seasoning before leaving it to warm in the crockpot. The cornbread, he wraps in foil and throws in the oven to heat through, digging out butter and scooping it into a little dish to put on the table with a salad he throws together before the spinach he picked from the greenhouse yesterday wilts.
The shower kicked on a minute or two after he left Bucky to his own devices, and just as Steve is pulling out bowls, the water cuts off. He's scooping out chili when he hears Bucky in the doorway, turning to find he's naked but for the towel wrapped around his waist, slender body flecked with droplets, wet hair slicked back.
He meets Steve's eyes boldly as he saunters across the room to snag his backpack off the floor. "Forgot this," he chirps, turning around and heading back to the bathroom. "Be out in a sec."
Steve's eyes drift down the length of him, the towel tied just above the sweet swell of his ass, dimples on display.
"Jesus," he huffs, shaking his head. He looks over at Lady and shrugs. "Kids these days."
She opens her mouth, panting happily, as if to say, yeah, isn't it great? Steve purses his lips and looks away. "Figures."
Bucky reappears right when Steve sits down and starts buttering a big piece of cornbread. He's shamelessly wearing the flannel shirt he stole from the store and a pair of jeans so thin and threadbare they look like they're going to fall to shreds any moment. He's not wearing any shoes or socks and he's left the shirt unbuttoned except two in the middle just to keep it together. Dropping his bag on the floor near the couch, he pushes his hand through his hair, fingers gently separating tangles without combing out the curls.
He comes over after that, plopping down heavily in the chair across from Steve. "That was an amazing shower. Feel like a whole new man."
Steve smirks. "Sure, kid. Eat up."
That seems to put Bucky out because he frowns, his bottom lip sticking out in a pout. "I'm not a kid, okay?"
"Sure," agrees Steve, shoveling a spoonful of chili in his mouth.
"I'm twenty," insists Bucky.
"Uh huh," says Steve, smiling blandly. He takes a sip of his root beer. Homemade last winter, tastes almost as good as it used to when he was a kid. "Sounds right."
Bucky huffs but starts on the chili, apparently pausing whatever test of wills he's decided he needs to engage in long enough to eat. As soon as he takes the first mouthful, he lets out a soft little groan and then all his concentration goes toward devouring the entire bowl in front of him, a second helping that Steve silently spoons out for him, and three thick slices of cornbread. It's pretty impressive considering how skinny he is.
"You want another bowl?" offers Steve, ladling out a third for himself.
Bucky shakes his head, rubbing his stomach absently. "No, thank you. That...was really good." Steve's pretty sure that's the first genuine thing that's come out of his mouth since Steve met him.
"You're welcome." Bucky sits there sipping at his own root beer while Steve polishes off his third heaping bowl. When he's finished, he stands and wordlessly starts gathering their dirty dishes up.
"Wait, I can help." Bucky stands quickly.
"No, you're a guest. Sit down. I've got this." Steve is firm but warm and gently pushes Bucky toward the living room. "Don't have cable or anything, no service out here, even on the antenna. But I've got a decent collection of DVDs. Pick something out if you want."
Bucky doesn't move though. The tension has crept back into his posture and he stares at Steve. "Are you for real? You can't be real."
"What?" Steve blinks at him.
"Why are you still being so nice to me?" snaps Bucky. "You don't gotta be nice, okay? You want something, just say it, we can work something out for the food and lodging, alright? I'm not a kid. I know how this works."
Steve looks at him steadily, then turns and goes to the sink, turning the tap on and grabbing the sponge. "Don't know what you mean," he says mildly.
Bucky lets out an irritated noise. "Like hell you don't. You gave me money, you fed me, you're letting me stay the night... I can't pay you, so I need to do something for you, and you won’t even let me wash the dishes. That means you want something else."
"Means you can go into the living room and pick a movie," Steve repeats, glancing at Bucky over his shoulder. Steve can see the tension in Bucky's body, the tremble in his hands and chin.
"It's not fair if you keep me guessing," he says quietly. "I'm offering, okay? Let me pay you back."
"Not keeping you guessing," Steve says firmly. "Does it look like I need anything? Don't need money, don't need payment. Of any kind."
"What, you don't get lonely out here with just your hand?" demands Bucky.
Steve soaps up the bowls and glasses, focusing back on the sink, though he's fully aware of Bucky behind him. "I’m not gonna let a kid down on his luck feel like he owes me something for common decency. I been there."
The snort that Bucky lets out is dripping with contempt and disbelief. "Sure. Okay. I've jerked off a lot of truckers, okay? I'm not some innocent kid. I know how this works. Doesn't matter to me if you want to close your eyes and pretend I'm some hot girl, neither."
Steve breathes out slowly through his nose, not reacting to any of what just tumbled out of Bucky's mouth. "I'm going to finish up here and then get some dessert together. You gonna pick a movie, or what?" He angles his head over his shoulder to make eye contact with Bucky again.
He finds exactly what he was afraid of; a look of frustrated hurt on Bucky's face, shoulders slumped. The poor kid has twisted himself all up inside, convinced Steve's going to come collect on his hospitality. "You from the 1960s, or what?" he finally scoffs. "This is some Leave it to Beaver shit."
"Movie," repeats Steve, and Bucky finally turns and goes into the living room.
Looking at Lady, Steve whistles at her, jerking his chin after Bucky, and she jumps up and follows him.
"Oh," he hears Bucky mumble from the other room. "Hey, girl. Oh, do you like belly rubs?" Bucky's voice immediately perks up and he starts to babytalk Lady with a lot more enthusiasm.
Steve finishes the dishes, leaving Bucky alone with Lady for a while to break him out of whatever bad mood was brewing. He has some pie in the fridge, so he cuts two big slices and heats them in the toaster oven, removing vanilla ice cream from the freezer.
Once he's plated it up, he carries it into the living room, finding that Bucky has elected to sit on the floor, Lady in his lap again, and he's turned on the TV and put Ghostbusters into the DVD player.
"Here," he says, handing Bucky the bowl. "Apple pie."
"Fuck off," Bucky huffs. "Are you serious?"
Steve blinks, taking a seat on the couch. "Excuse me?"
"Sorry," mumbles Bucky. "It's just...hard to believe. Apple pie, too?"
Steve shrugs. “I didn’t make it. Millie at the diner sent me home with an extra pie the last time I was in town. I froze it.”
“Millie at the diner,” repeats Bucky mockingly. Then he blows out a breath and picks up the spoon. “Whatever.”
They sit and eat and watch the movie. Steve hasn’t actually seen this one yet. He buys new movies all the time, orders them on the computer at the library and has them delivered to his P.O. Box. When they’re finished with the dessert, he gathers their bowls while Bucky remains firmly planted on the floor with Lady. By the time the movie is over, the sun has gone down, although that doesn’t mean much. It sets by 6:00 these days. He can hear the wind howling and wonders if a storm is blowing in. He should have checked the weather while he was in town.
“Do you want to watch another?” he asks.
Bucky stifles a yawn as he tries to open his mouth to reply. Steve wonders how long it’s been since he slept in a bed, or hell, even in a place he felt safe. Not that Steve thinks Bucky feels particularly safe here, but hopefully it’s better than it could be.
With a sigh, he whistles, and Lady jumps up off of Bucky. “I’m gonna take her out for a walk, check the property for the night. There are three doors down the hall. The one directly across from the bathroom is my office. There’s a daybed in there you can sleep in. It’s comfortable. The door locks from the inside. There’s extra blankets in the linen closet. It can get a little chilly at night around here.”
Bucky stands up. He looks a little lost, glancing between the hall and Steve pulling on a jacket by the kitchen door. “That’s it, then. That’s really...you’re not gonna...” His voice trembles a little and then he snaps his mouth closed, fierce stubbornness stealing over his face. “Good night.”
He turns and stomps away.
Steve goes out with Lady, doing their usual lap of the property and checking on the chickens before turning in. The woods are just as peaceful and empty as ever. When he gets back, he can hear Bucky in the study, door closed firmly. He’s tossing and turning on the little bed, but he settles soon enough. As Steve walks past it, he hears Bucky’s heartbeat pounding in his chest so he doesn’t let himself pause. Just pushes on to his own room. Lady curls up on her doggy bed on the floor and Steve strips down to a pair of sweatpants before he gets in bed.
In the morning, he’ll offer Bucky the money for a bus ticket wherever it is he’s trying to go.
Steve's not a particularly heavy sleeper, nor does he need much sleep. The first time he wakes to unfamiliar noise in the cabin, the red glow of his alarm clock shows him it's just past two in the morning. He hears the toilet flush, the sink running, and then Bucky's light feet on the hardwood. There's a pause just outside Steve's door, but then he keeps walking back to the study, the door closing gently and the lock clicking into place.
At four, he hears Bucky go to the kitchen for a glass of water. Then he hears him do a circuit of the living room and the whole cabin, with the kind of pauses in his steps that indicate he's pausing to look at stuff. Steve doesn't have a lot of photos on the walls, but there are a couple, and maybe he's browsing his books and DVDs. Steve’s got a lot of his own art up, too, so he’s probably perusing the landscapes. Again, Bucky returns to the study and locks the door, sinking back into sleep.
Steve dozes for another hour or so before he's up for good, wide awake at 5:30. Lady stirs as well, and Steve figures she'll start getting antsy for breakfast and a walk soon, anyway. He gets himself up and pulls on a hoodie. This time, when he pauses silently outside the study, he hears Bucky snoring deeply, having finally found deep sleep at last.
He feeds Lady, puts on the coffee maker, and then pulls the kitchen curtains open.
"Well," he says, stunned, blinking into the blinding brightness of a world blanketed in snow. "Shit."
The sun hasn't even risen yet, but with the last of the moonlight streaming down, it looks like daylight already. Steve goes to the door, pulling it open to get a closer look; there's at least twelve inches of snow piled on top of his picnic table, with more swirling steadily down.
Lady huddles at his ankles, sniffing at the snow as she licks at the thick flakes. He pushes her back, not wanting to let her out before he clears a path. She loves snow, and given the chance, she'll leap into it like it's a pond, and he'll be saddled with a soaking wet dog to stink up the house.
The kitchen starts to fill with the smell of coffee, but Steve just leaves it to stay warm while he grumbles through the process of digging out snow pants, boots, and his big coat. He shovels out half the deck and a path to the yard, then turns and whistles for Lady.
She happily runs out into the snow, bounding through the path Steve carved for her. They spend awhile longer out there together while Steve half-heartedly does chores, mostly focusing on clearing the snow from the solar panels, until Steve finally trudges back to the house. He makes Lady sit on the porch a moment while he goes in to get towels, coming back to rub her down. When they both come back inside, Bucky is standing in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, staring out the window in wide-eyed shock. "It snowed."
"Yeah, came pretty early this year." He doesn't point out that Bucky would have been out in that if he'd slept outside as he intended. He doesn't think he needs to, the look on Bucky's face says he's perfectly aware.
"How do we even still have power?" he asks, looking back at Steve.
"Solar panels and generator for backup. We're not on the grid." Steve shrugs. "I am sorry because I think you'll be stuck with me for a while. Snow's early but usually once it comes...it sticks for the season."
"The season?" Bucky repeats slowly. "Like, all winter?"
"Yes," says Steve simply. No use beating around the bush. "The mountains block the warm sea air from getting to us, it all just gets pushed down from the great lakes."
"Oh," says Bucky. "And...and when is it over?"
Steve shrugs. "March if we're lucky, but usually April. May if we're really unlucky."
"Oh my god."
Steve hangs the towel on the back of one of the chairs, grabbing Lady's water bowl to refill it. He's keeping calm, because it's clear this is hitting Bucky hard; he's frozen in the middle of the kitchen, white-knuckled as he grips his mug, face pale, mouth slack with shock.
"I can't be here all winter," he says thinly. "I... I... Are you serious? Once it snows, you're just...stuck here? What do you do for food? Fuel? Supplies?"
Steve goes to the cupboard and pulls out a dog biscuit, whistling sharply for Lady to sit and wait patiently before he gives it to her. "I got a cellar, kid. Two upright freezers, canned goods, jars. I just restocked on dog food, wet and dry, and chicken feed. There’s a small greenhouse around the back of the house. Plenty of trees around for wood and I picked up all the supplies I need for winter, extra fuel included. That's why I was in town."
Bucky makes a strangled little noise. "They don't clear the road? You've got a big truck..."
"We’re 35 miles out of town," Steve says, keeping his voice gentle. "Practically none of that is paved so, no, they don't clear it."
"I was heading for Brooklyn," Bucky says weakly. "I made it this far, I..."
"I'm sorry, Bucky," Steve says quietly. "I planned on taking you to the bus station today, buying you a ticket wherever you were going. But there's over a foot of snow already. I can't drive in that."
Bucky's breath hitches, face screwing up as he fights off frustrated tears. "Stupid," he mutters. "I'm so damn stupid."
"Kid—" starts Steve, but Bucky shoots him a glare that actually manages to cut Steve off.
"I'm not a kid!" he snarls again, twice as irate as last night. "God! I'm just some dumbass who got in the back of a stranger's truck without knowing where it was going or if it would work out and just hoping I could bargain my way out of trouble by offering to suck you off. And you don't even want that and now I'm stuck!"
Steve holds up his hands, trying to placate Bucky. "Come on, take a deep breath, Buck. It's not that bad. The snow came early, it's possible we'll catch a break and it'll melt off before the next big storm. I swear, if it gets down to a few inches, I'll take you into town, okay?"
Bucky's angry expression crumbles and he turns away abruptly, setting his coffee cup down and leaning heavily over the kitchen sink. His shoulders shake and Steve can hear him trying to stifle his own sobs. Whatever brought Bucky to this point, it was clearly not just a freak early snowstorm.
Taking a breath, Steve whistles for Lady and goes back to the door. He should probably head out to the shed and get some wood for inside. He'll give Bucky a moment.
By the time Steve has done every remaining chore there is to do outdoors and away from his unplanned house guest, Bucky has disappeared back into Steve's study. His deep and even breathing sounds like sleep, and Steve leaves him to it. He probably has a sleep debt he needs to catch up on anyway. Steve busies himself making a late breakfast/early lunch and then settles onto the couch and picks up one of the books he got from the library. He sure doesn’t want to see the size of the fine he’ll need to pay, come spring.
Bucky will have to come to terms with this on his own. There’s nothing Steve can do to make it any easier.
It's mid-afternoon when Bucky reappears. He’s rubbing at his eyes, which look puffy and swollen from crying and too much sleep. "Sorry about earlier," he mutters. "I...I don't like feeling trapped."
"I get that," says Steve, looking up. "There's a couple of sandwiches in the fridge and some leftover chili if you want to heat that up."
Bucky frowns a little, but it passes quickly. With a heavy sigh, he goes into the kitchen, rummaging in the fridge to pull out the food in question. They don't talk a lot for the rest of the day. Bucky picks out a book from Steve's shelf and sits on the floor with Lady, who has already learned she’s welcome to drape herself across his lap when he sits like that.
Dinner is a casserole Steve takes out of the freezer and heats up in the oven. Bucky is quiet for all of it before he excuses himself to the study again and shuts the door. Steve can hear that he doesn't go to sleep immediately, and he thinks probably he keeps reading, but eventually his heart rate slows and his breaths go rhythmic and deep, and Steve sighs to himself.
This is gonna be a long-ass winter.